BY WILLIAM BAIRAMIAN
BOISE, Idaho—Johnny Kazian is 80-years old. He is a Korean War veteran, a former Hollywood stuntman, and an oil field engineer. He is also a leading force for the Armenian Cause in Boise, Idaho.
On Saturday, March 2, the Armenian National Committee of America –Western Region (ANCA-WR) traveled to Boise for a Town Hall spearheaded by Johnny Kazian. The gathering with a small but lively Idaho Armenian community was reminiscent of the town hall meetings once held in small towns across the United States. The ANCA Town Hall meeting was held in the basement hall of the quaint Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, where a dozen Armenian-Americans – originally from Boise, Baku, Philadelphia, Istanbul, and Yerevan – gathered to learn about the ANCA’s work and discuss ways of becoming involved in the political process.
Sitting in an all-American diner earlier that morning, a hearty Mountain West breakfast of steak, eggs, bacon, and hash browns before him, Mr. Kazian shared his family’s story with me. His father was the only survivor of the Armenian Genocide – he was from Sebastia. “He was a great man, one of a kind,” said Mr. Kazian, fondly remembering his father.
I had met Mr. Kazian in Washington, DC, years ago when he bravely walked through the halls of Congress to advocate, with the ANCA, for the Armenian American issues so dear to him. Years later, in Boise, I realized that the resolve in his eyes when he spoke with me was one of the reasons why I work for the ANCA and why I was in Idaho – because people like him believe that Armenians deserve justice and that they will fight for it with passion and undying devotion.
Later that day, as we sat in that church hall, the small Boise Armenian community trickled in. Among them was Flora, a survivor of the Baku pogroms perpetrated by Azerbaijani mobs, encouraged by the government, against the city’s Armenian population. She had escaped to Yerevan and then moved to Boise to start a new life. She had brought cake and others had brought delicacies to share with their compatriots.
The vibrant discussion that followed the introductory remarks about the ANCA’s efforts evidenced the Boise Armenian community’s interest and readiness to play its part in the Armenian Cause.
One of the attendees asked, “What makes you think we’re going to win considering the odds we’re up against?” Looking around, the answer was clear: we had already won. Sons, daughters, and grandchildren of the Armenian Genocide, Stalinist purges, and Azerbaijani pogroms sat around the table, as Armenians, and talked about how they can contribute to the goals of their people – there could be no greater victory.
After the church hall emptied out and everyone did their part in cleaning up to leave the room tidy, a small group remained outside. Kazian sat in his car and, before driving off, said, in a resounding tone, “This isn’t our last meeting. I’ll see you again soon!” I believe him, which is the only thing I could do. After all, this man had spent his whole life believing.
The next ANCA Town Hall meeting will take place in Fresno, California on March 16 and, following that, in Phoenix, Arizona on April 7. A previous ANCA Town Hall was held in Las Vegas, Nevada earlier this month.The ANCA Town Hall meetings are being held across the nation consistent with the ANCA’s belief in grassroots organizing and activism.
The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.